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Wiltshire Community History

Church of St. Thomas Beckett, Tilshead

The significance of Tilshead in the 11th century as a borough, as well as a Royal manor, and the plan type of the present church, suggests the possibility that there was a church here in Saxon times. There are worked stones in the inner walls of the belfry stage of the tower which may have come from an earlier building and therefore support this theory and a rector was recorded c.1170. By the early 13th century the rectors were absentees and the church was served by vicars representing the rectors.
A vicarage had been ordained and by 1291 had been consolidated with the rectory. By 1317 the advowson had been given by Edward II to Ivychurch Priory with license to appropriate the church, until the time of the Dissolution, and then the Crown retained it until it was sold to the Bishop of Salisbury in 1902. In 1991 Tilshead became part of the benefice of Tilshead, Orcheston and Chitterne.

The vicar had a modest house from 1319. It was a three roomed residence in the late 16th century, with a thatched roof. By the 1820s the vicarage was a red brick house south west of the church and it was then replaced again in 1972, with a house in the High Street. In the late 18th century and early 19th centuries the vicars were pluralists, serving more than one church, and curates were appointed at Tilshead. One Sunday service was held at this time, as well as extra communion services for Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide and Michaelmas.

The church is constructed of flint rubble and ashlar and some of the walls are chequered. It has a chancel and a central tower, with a north vestry and an aisled and clerestoried nave with south porch. The 13th century alterations included the rebuilding of the chancel, the building of the upper part of the tower and the alteration of the south tower.
The style of the church is of the Middle Ages c.900 -1500 and the arches and pillars are of a type similar to others in the area, such as at Shrewton and Longbridge Deverell. The lower stages of the tower are contemporary with the arches being 13th century. To the east in the chancel are two tiny lancets suggesting a much shorter building than now exists, reaching originally to the priest's door. The chancel was extended in the 13th century to its present dimensions and gained four further lancets. The east window at the top of the lancets is 14th century and the two windows in the south aisle of the nave are 13th century, although they may have been recarved; the great west window exhibits mullions of the Perpendicular style and also suggests recarving at some point before the 1840s. There is no stained glass, and no furnishings or fittings of the Middle Ages remain.
The painted wall decoration was recorded in the 19th century when the whitewash was removed; 'it was found that there was scarcely a foot square that did not bear illuminated decorations or texts of scripture in black letter. The thin coat of plaster upon which these were painted rapidly fell off and disclosed a superior degree of ornamentation consisting of emblems - saints and angels. These in their turn fell in flakes to the ground so quickly that no distinct idea could be formed of the subjects.'
Small traces remain and are visible in the bell tower.

In 1764 the bells underwent restoration work and re-hanging. Timber repairs were made to the bell tower and the Georgian altar rails were installed. The cost of this, amounting to over £67, was met with extra rates over a two year period.

There are very few monuments as the holders of the manor had no particular ties with Tilshead. The oldest gravestone is of a simple design in the chancel floor, for George Slade dated 1694. On the south wall of the chancel is a freestone monument to Revd. George Edwards dated 1782 reading:-
'Amidsty his pious labours, (Grief to tell)
He sunk, and in the Altar's service fell,'
and reflected the fact that he actually died while celebrating Holy Communion.

Beneath the central tower is a memorial to the Lawes family, who were Yeoman Farmers at Hooper's farm, one of whom was Churchwarden in 1805.
Other Victorian brasses in the nave commemorate the Rev. Joseph Holden Johnson, vicar from 1824-1884. Rev. Johnson devoted himself to the restoration of the church in the 19th century which took place from the 1830s to the grand re-opening in September 1846. This work was designed and overseen by T.H. Wyatt and D. Brandon. The old box pews were replaced by pitched pine, still now in the north aisle, and the work also included the installation of an 'oakem harmonium set in the nave with buzzing and reedy tone.' Windows were replaced with Victorian Gothic in the larger north aisle. Rev. Johnson also put up the stained and leaded windows in 1848, designed and created by him, and restoring some of the colour to the interior. He oversaw the building of a new vicarage house, and a new glebe farmhouse, and produced engravings for church leaflets, as well as being an early photographer. Services were more frequent and well attended and celebrated all of the major festivals as well as Wednesday evening services in the winter attended by as many as 60 people.
The roof was repaired in 1904 using timbers from the local windmill, and repaired again in 1965.
Not all of the work carried out at this time was considered sympathetic to the original structure and by the early 20th century a great deal of attention was paid to damp and leaking walls and roofs, rotten floors in the nave and dry rot in the new north aisle, as well as sensitive work to the chancel.
The dedication of the church is first recorded in 1763, to St. Thomas Beckett, who was connected with Ivychurch Priory.
The church plate was confiscated in 1553, leaving one chalice. A cup and cover of 1787 and a flagon of 1885 were there in the early 1990s.

The parish registers from 1664, other than those in current use, are held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

Church Search Results

There were 4 items found.

Church of St. Thomas Beckett, Tilshead
Church of St. Thomas  Beckett, Tilshead

Image Date: 2011
Image Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


Church of St. Thomas Beckett, Tilshead
Church of St. Thomas  Beckett, Tilshead

Image Date: 2011
Image Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


Church of St. Thomas Beckett, Tilshead
Church of St. Thomas  Beckett, Tilshead

Image Date: 2011
Image Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


Church of St. Thomas Beckett, Tilshead
Church of St. Thomas  Beckett, Tilshead

Image Date: 2011
Image Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


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